Candidates focus on pay raises, budget cuts
Seven candidates running for three trustee positions on the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District school board agreed at an Oct. 19 candidate forum that the district's teachers were owed the 5.5 percent pay raise included in the budget this year, and were deserving of more.
However, the seven individuals stated differing opinions on a variety of other topics they discussed before a crowd of more than 525 residents at Cy-Fair ISD's Berry Educational Support Center.
Position No. 5
Candidates are Bill Henderson, 60, an attorney; and incumbent John Ogletree, 58, a pastor.
They agreed that teachers deserve the 5.5 percent pay raise they received this school budget year and additional pay increases in the future. Henderson said he believed the cuts imposed on the budget in recent years have put an unfair burden on teachers, while Ogletree said the district is working to provide them with the resources they need to effectively teach.
"Teachers at all levels are not provided the kind of financial resources they need and end up having to pay for things in their classrooms," said Henderson, who is a retired Harris County family district court judge and an attorney at Law Offices of Bill Henderson.
When asked three areas of the budget they would target for cuts if needed, Henderson said he would study each department to see where reductions should be made, while Ogletree said he would look to efficiency studies previously commissioned by the district.
"I believe it is unwise to point to three areas that need to be cut," said Ogletree, who is founding pastor of First Metropolitan Church. "We have received evaluations from consultants and we are now getting one from APQC (a Houston-based firm that studies organizational best practices and performance benchmarks). I would study those and then make a wise decision on future cuts."
They disagreed on the implementation of the Club Rewind program, which opened at each of the district's 52 elementary campuses this school year.
Henderson said day-care facilities in the private sector are unable to compete with the district's program because of additional costs and licensing requirements they must meet.
Ogletree said the board and administration are urged by taxpayers to privatize and find additional sources of revenue to meet budget needs, but then are criticized by some when it results in competition with the private sector. He said he voted in favor of the Club Rewind program even though his church operates a day-care program.
Position No. 6
Candidates are incumbent Don Ryan, 47, owner of an insurance company; Kay Smith, 58, a business owner; and Brad West, 42, a business owner.
They agreed that teachers deserved pay increases for the work they do in the district's classrooms. Ryan said because the district was unable to provide raises for the previous three years due to budget challenges, teachers were faced with taking jobs in surrounding school districts that offered higher pay.
"In this economy I don't blame you for going, but I don't want you to go - I want you to stay here," said Ryan, owner of Cy-Fair Insurance Group.
Smith said the district has great teachers and she does not believe they are being paid enough.
West said he would have voted for the raise this year, and would vote for another one within a balanced budget.
As for future budget cuts, Smith said she would focus on increasing operational efficiencies and on generating new revenue at the Berry Center. West said he would steer clear of cuts affecting teacher programs and the classroom, but did outline three budget reduction recommendations.
"We could charge for parking at the Berry Center for non-Cy-Fair ISD events, and small Cy-Fair ISD events need to go back to the campuses," said West, owner of Rain Forest Car Wash and Lube. "Third, I am in favor of serving champagne at weddings, but not at Cy-Fair ISD events."
That, he said, would allow the center to book more weddings and increase revenue.
Ryan said he is confident the district and board have worked hard in the past 10 years to prepare for budget challenges, and he believes the district fund balance will help to avoid future budget cuts.
West and Smith said they did not support the district's move to launch the Club Rewind program and the competition it generated with the community's private businesses, but Ryan said he voted in favor of the program and the additional revenue it will generate for the district.
"I am uncomfortable thinking about our district competing against surrounding business," said Smith, owner of Smith Street Jewelry and several other small businesses. "There are other ways we could do that (generate additional revenue). We want to support and promote businesses in our area."
Position No. 7
Candidates are Scott Adams, 35, a bank vice president/branch manager; and incumbent Bob R. Covey, 63, a vice president of sales for a steel distribution company.
They agreed teachers deserved a pay raise.
Covey said he voted in favor of it this budget year and was pleased the district was able to give the across-the-board raise while balancing the budget.
Adams said the district is behind the eight ball in teacher pay and that he would have voted for the 5.5 percent increase they received this budget year, but is not sure he would have voted with the majority of the board on the across-the-board 5 percent employee pay raise.
Adams said the district needs to look to the Berry Center and technology as sources for potential budget cuts.
"We need to listen to ideas to get out from debt holes at the Berry Center," said Adams, who is vice president/branch manager of the Champions Branch of Whitney National Bank.
"We also need cost-cutting in technology - we need to bring it in-house instead of outsourcing," Adams said. "We have a fundamental problem in that the state is giving us so much less money than many other school districts. If we fix that, so many of our problems are gone. The board needs to lead the fight in the legislature."
Covey does not believe the board should micromanage the district, and that it should look to the administration and teachers for budget-cutting ideas.
Adams said he saw "both sides of the coin" when it comes to the district's implementation of Club Rewind and its effect on private businesses in the same industry.
He said that since the district is in the business of educating children, it makes sense to further that through a before- and after-school care program. But he said he doesn't favor government having an unfair advantage over private operators. He said he would like to see the program modified to allow outside providers to come in and run the program while leasing district facilities.
Covey said the district and board were thinking "outside of the box" with Club Rewind.
"A presentation was made to us and it made sense," said Covey, a certified teacher and vice president of sales for American Alloy Steel. "Unfortunately, some feel we are competing against private providers. I feel like we are offering a service that could have been unattainable to some previously."
Local Advertising by PaperG